Recently two people have approached me to ask for my tips on independent consulting. Having quickly dashed off my list of do’s and don’ts to them, it occurred to me that I could re-purpose that list here in case it’s useful to you.

I’ll start by sharing that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, which will be obvious from my post history: it’s very hard to stay disciplined about regularly posting to a blog, even with more control over my work hours. (This could be due to my still having my one-year-old son home part-time, but that’s surely not the only reason.)

I’m loving many aspects of the freelance life, since I have learned that I work best when my time and working conditions are less tightly controlled. But, I have been learning some hard lessons since I threw my lot in completely (i.e., quit the day job and exited the 9-5 contractor’s life) in late 2008.

What’s below therefore reflects my experience – and the weaknesses I’ve uncovered – but if you recognize yourself in any of them, then the advice might be useful.

DO’s

  • Give out business cards, post on LinkedIn, guest-write articles – heck, sponsor events if you can afford it: whatever you can do to be in people’s face about what you do, you should do (without being obnoxious, of course).
  • Budget for those weeks when you know things will be slow, or for when you’ll be on holiday, so you don’t end up with cashflow problems. Having another source of predictable income in the family really helps (Not having that income can sap your schedule due to much juggling and time spent robbing Pete to pay Paul)
  • Take breaks when you feel the need for them (and even sometimes when you don’t); it’s one thing to be disciplined, but doing some exercise, having a good cup of tea or taking a walk can all help open up parts of your brain that were dormant while you drilled away. It might help you come up with good solutions to work issues you’ve been grappling with.
  • Keep good books and records (or hire someone else to do it if you’re not inclined). You should be able to put your hands on any document related to your business finances quickly. Otherwise, at tax time and other points throughout the year, you’ll take away time from your paid work as you ransack the office looking for the receipt from that expensive new laptop you can’t wait to write off.
  • Find out what you can write off and keep receipts for everything (and if you’ve followed the previous DO, you’ll have logged them somewhere and know where they are).
  • – Give some stuff away for free – volunteer to write some stuff for people to show them what you can do, but ONLY if you think they’ll come through with work or a referral to work (as you get more well-known, you’ll want that freebie to be more of a ‘sample’).
  • Join professional associations and newsgroups, and be open to the idea of partnering with other small businesses who offer a complementary service to yours (you may, for example, pool your resources to bid on a job through a request for proposal).

DON’Ts

  • Don’t wait until tax time to pull your financials together.
  • Don’t spend any tax money you collect, assuming you’ll pay it back later. Later may not come soon as you think.
  • Don’t get discouraged on those days where it seems the phone isn’t ringing.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge what you think you’re worth. Remember that while 9-5ers are sitting in boring meetings, they’re still being paid; your non-productive time isn’t being paid for.
  • Don’t leave marketing and client follow-up to the last item on your list…it won’t get done once you get busy with paid hours.

There – the fifteen-minute ‘brain dump’.

And remember, do as I SAY, not as I DO. These are lessons I’m still very much in the process of learning =;->

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